"Mom, where's the box of my winter clothes?" I holler down the stairs from the attic. "It's going to get cold in New York City," I needlessly inform her, just to express my glee of getting out of this town and into the big city. I'd never lived more than twenty miles from the house I grew up in - even went to the community college nearby.
I stayed to help my mother take care of her ailing father. He passed away a year ago, and with his death he gave me the freedom, the hope and the inspiration to live my life to the fullest. All my life he puttered around the house, telling story after story of his life adventures. Backpacking in Ireland, sailing in the Mediterranean, seeing the pyramids, and then finally settling down and establishing a family. I wanted to live as wide a life as him.
"I don't know Jen, it's up there somewhere. Honestly, girl, if you can't manage to find your own box of clothes, how can you expect to manage in a big city?" She yells back without any bite to her words. She worries, I know, but she understands it's time for me to spread my wings. I'm still trying to convince her to start living for herself; maybe go on a few dates, start a hobby, anything really. "Find something you're passionate about," I encourage her, but she insists she's past her prime. She waves her hands and tells me, "It's too late for things like that." But I see a glint in her eye. I know the excitement of my move is affecting her.
I mumble back a response and open up the box closest to me. I peer through the cloud of dust and discover photo albums. The task at hand is completely forgotten as I plop on the floor, not even caring if my pants become filthy.
I open the cover and my swaddled newborn body in my mother's arms greet me. My finger traces my tiny shape, my mother's sweaty face - she looks beautiful. I flip through a few more pages of my birth, and reach me, age 2, eating a piece of birthday cake with frosting smeared around my cheeks and even on my nose.
I chuckle and keep turning the pages, but my throat catches when I see myself, three years old, in my grandfather's lap. I'm yanking on his tie, while he's looking away from the camera, speaking to someone to his left. He looked so distinguished and a pang of grief shot through me. I wish he were here with me today, helping me move and offering advice about how to not get ripped off by the landlord and getting around via public transit. I wish it hadn't taken his death for me to start living. I pull the picture from the plastic sleeve.
"I love you, Grandpa," I whisper to his still form, and then put us in my wallet. Mom will understand.
There are more and more pages of pictures, including the occasional school portrait where it was obvious I had forgotten to remind my mother it was picture day. Cat sweaters are usually the dead give away. Mom usually let me dress myself, but for any sort of portrait, whether school or Santa Claus or Christmas card, she put her foot down. She made me wear frilly dresses that always itched.
"Honey, what are you doing in here? Have you still not found the box?" My mother asks as she enters the attic. Looking over my shoulder, she murmurs, "Oh, honey." It was our last family portrait - Grandpa, Mom, and me - taken a year and a half ago. We stand against the cheesy blue-speckled background as a trio, a united front, facing the world together and supporting one another.
With my Grandpa gone and me moving away, the trio has broken up, but we'll never be separated, not in spirit.